On my first day volunteering in the hospital, my task is to observe Steven, a more experienced volunteer, as he visits with patients. We begin by meeting Amanda, the first patient on our list.
My eyes ran across the same paragraph for the fifth — or maybe even sixth — time in the span of 15 minutes. Though I was giving my undivided attention to the paragraph, I could not move past it; I was at a complete loss for how to convey my next point.
They asked me how that encounter had gone, and I could feel my cheeks turn bright red. I was embarrassed that I was not able to connect with my patient.
Recently I have let myself consider how wonderful of a physician Mary Oliver would have been, and how wonderful a medical school classmate.
Through my patient’s same wants and needs, I saw my own thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears and my own desire to be liked, to be wanted, to be needed. I felt, for the first time in a very long time, a genuine human connection.
Even though providers often must jump for one room to the next, it is important that they take the time to learn about each patient’s individual needs.
While there is no way to choose our patients’ outcomes, we can certainly choose to be empathetic and compassionate regardless of their outcomes. Medicine without empathy and compassion is not medicine at all.
As I sat on the table in the exam room, I quietly smiled to myself at the irony: I had been on the other side of the room the entire year, and, yet, here I was again, back to assuming the role of a patient.
Ever since that day in the grocery store, I have volunteered at least once a month for other senior citizens. I get to know their stories and try to share the understanding that I have gained with the world.
On the first day of my surgery clerkship, our chief resident gave us a few instructions for our next two months together. We had to carry certain types of gauze and tape in our soon-to-be overflowing white coat pockets, create a clear and confident daily plan for each patient we followed, and be ready for rounds at 6 a.m. the next morning.
It was Friday of the seventh week of my family medicine clerkship. I was tired. Tired from the day and, honestly, tired from the clerkship. I was ready for a change of pace. The next patient was Mr. S., a 30-year-old male, here for an establish care visit. I did not recognize the name. I reviewed his chart before the encounter, two visits in the system, both to the ER for cocaine-induced angina. I stereotyped him immediately. Not that this was right, but I did. I think everyone does.